Drug Could Cut Heart Surgery Risks

A potentially deadly inflammatory response sometimes kicks in when surgeons temporarily switch heart surgery patients to a heart-lung machine. But now, researchers are evaluating a drug called pexelizumab that might block that inflammation and help save lives. Just as happens in the heart, three to six liters of blood run through the heart-lung bypass machine per minute, which means the body's total blood volume goes through the machine many times in the hours it takes to perform bypass surgery. "It's a massive physiologic insult like a major trauma, so our body comes alive with an inflammatory response to circulating through this unit," said Dr. Kevin P. Landolfo, chief of the Section of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the Medical College of Georgia. With pexelizumab, "The immune system is still revved up, but we block the most dangerous component of it," Landolfo explained. The current study will involve 5,000 heart bypass patients in about 40 states and three foreign countries, the researchers said.

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